PHILADELPHIA – James Harden’s arrival in Philadelphia is the story that you can’t run or hide from.
The bearded one is always a big deal, but even more these days, now that he has been traded to the Sixers.
But the Boston Celtics don’t give a damn about Harden heading into tonight’s game against Philly, because Harden’s not playing due to a hamstring injury that's still on the mend.
The national narrative for tonight’s game may be centered around Harden.
But for Boston, this game has to be about Robert Williams III.
Jayson Tatum’s All-Star status is cemented, regardless of what happens tonight.
And Jaylen Brown remains one of the league’s better players so tonight’s game won’t impact his status, either.
But Time Lord?
Tonight’s game where he’ll spend a large chunk of it trying to defend MVP-front-runner Joel Embiid, isn’t just another game against a pretty good player.
No disrespect to Denver's Nikola Jokic, but Embiid is the standard that most NBA big men measure themselves against.
Because unlike any big out there, Embiid has the ability to combine tremendous power with force while showcasing the kind of nimble footwork players of that size, seldom have in their bag of talents.
But as Celtics fans have seen most of this season, Williams is emerging as a legit All-Star talent in his own right.
He’s not there, yet; but his game is definitely trending in that direction.
We saw that in Boston's win over Denver last week.
Against Jokic and the Nuggets last week, Williams was at his best when the game mattered most.
He tallied five blocked shots for the game, three of which came in the decisive fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter with Williams as the primary defender most possessions, Jokic was 3-for-8 shooting with eight points and three rebounds which included a number of well-defended possessions by Williams leading to misses.
Pretty much every player that Celtics head coach Ime Udoka rolls out onto the court lately, has produced.
But what they’re getting from Williams stands out for a number of reasons.
For starters, he’s the most athletically gifted big man on the Celtics roster.
It’s not even close.
As much as he impacts the game with his rebounding and blocked shots, what often goes unnoticed (and understandably so) are the shots that aren’t taken by teams out of fear he’ll send it five rows deep.
And the ball movement that his presence brings about, has been one of the low-key, secret sauce ingredients to the teams’ recent recipe for success as well.
This brings us full circle to tonight’s game against Philadelphia and Embiid who is averaging 29.5 points, 11.2 rebounds and a career-high 4.5 assists per game.
Yes, he is that good.
And Williams, while not at that level just yet, is progressing at a good clip.
He’s averaging a near double-double of 10.0 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, to go with 2.2 blocks and 2.0 assists while shooting a career-best 73.2 percent from the field.
In Boston’s last 10 games, Williams is second in the league in blocked shots (2.6). He’s also shooting 71.6 percent from the field during that span, higher than any NBA player who has appeared in each of the last 10 games and has taken as many shots per game (6.7) as Williams.
Williams is playing well and has established himself as a key contributor to Boston’s success which includes eight straight wins and victories in 10 of the last 11 games.
But there are still levels of growth to his game that have yet to be met, opportunities for improvement that await him.
This is the latest and maybe most significant mile-marker in Time Lord’s basketball journey.